A study led by Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., recently linked childhood stress and poverty to reduced working memory function in late adolescence. Reading about it in the Washington Post (you may need to register to access the article), I started thinking about the impact that our current economic situation may have on young people, as well as how caring adults and family members can limit the negative aspects of that impact.
The study concluded that (1) when poverty conditions were present in a 9- to 13-year old’s life and (2) when that young person had high levels of stress-related hormones, they demonstrated reductions in working memory (basically short-term memory). As poverty or stress levels increased in study participants, working memory function decreased in later adolescence.
As our community faces higher unemployment rates and Indianapolis consistently ranks in the top three metropolitan area for foreclosure rates, youth are surely being impacted. After a quick internet search for research-based practices to support youth during difficult economic times, I found a great overview and list of related articles from the American Phychological Association. One article is all about talking to children about the economy and inviting them into a discussion. It’s amazing how small discussions can go so far in mitigating negative results in youth!
Of course, this article also provokes some thought about how our community as a whole needs to address underlying social and economic issues if we truly want equal opportunities for all our youth. Discussions are important, but quick-fixes might not go far enough to fight the long-term impact on memory among these youth.
A related quote from the study’s author:
“It’s not just ‘Read to our kids and take them to the library,’ ” he said. “We need to take into account that chronic stress takes a toll not only on their health, but it may take a toll on their cognitive functioning.”